Spooky, sweet and not-so non-toxic: Canadian researchers explain the psychology of fear, the science of candy cravings, and the chemistry of face paint

October 29, 2013

OTTAWA, October 28, 2013 – With Halloween only a few days away, many parents are stocking up on the essentials: costumes, colourful makeup and buckets of candy to hand out to local trick-or-treaters. The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has supported researchers who can provide insight into the effects of fear, sugar and face paint on the body and mind.

  • Vincenzo De Luca at Brock University used CFI funds to outfit his lab with the tools he needs to study the biochemistry of medicinal and commercial compounds. After analyzing the chemical ingredients listed on the back of a typical drug store Halloween face paint kit, De Luca says their unknown concentrations and lack of regulation could cause an allergic reaction under certain conditions. His advice to parents: opt for Halloween makeup made from organic products or go the DIY route by using food colouring instead. De Luca can discuss the chemistry of commercially available cosmetics, their short- and long-term effects on the body and the true meaning of “non-toxic.”
  • The CFI funded Stéphane Bouchard so he could build a virtual environment where observes his participants as they confront their deepest fears and anxieties at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. “People react strongly to certain things for different reasons,” says Bouchard. “A main reason could be a genetic disposition to be scared of something that is unfamiliar or perceived as uncontrollable or dangerous.” With Halloween being the main night for fright, Bouchard is prepared to comment on the biological nature of fear.
  • Stephanie Fulton at the Université de Montréal uses her CFI-funded neuroendocrinology lab to explore how certain foods affect the brain’s reward mechanisms. Fulton suggests parents not concern themselves with one night of allowing their children to indulge in candy. But she does warn against the daily consumption of food high in trans-saturated fats and sugar. Fulton’s research shows that these foods stop the brain from releasing certain hormones and chemicals responsible for rewarding feelings, which can lead to depression and other mood disorders. She advises parents to let their children have fun on Halloween but avoid using sweets as rewards. Doing so may cause them to associate high fat and sugar foods with feeling good, leading to increased cravings and consumption down the road. Fulton can discuss brain activity related to food, reward and motivation and its link to obesity and depression.

These are only a few of the angles CFI-funded researchers are prepared to discuss in advance of Halloween. The experts listed above are available for interviews though their schedules may vary. For additional story ideas, contact information for experts or insight into what is happening at the Canada Foundation for Innovation, please click here or contact our media relations staff listed below.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

The Canada Foundation for Innovation gives researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI is helping to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers, to support private-sector innovation and to create high-quality jobs that strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.